Clinton Wins Big in California, Sanders Vows to Fight On

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Hillary Clinton Holds Primary Night Event In Brooklyn, New York
Photo: Justin Sullivan/2016 Getty Images

In the imaginations of the more optimistic Bernie Sanders supporters, June 7 was supposed to be the day when the Democratic Party was taken by emotional, if not mathematical, storm as he swept California convincingly and built the kind of late momentum that would impress superdelegates, should Hillary Clinton’s campaign somehow fall apart before the convention in Philadelphia. That’s not how it all turned out.

Instead, Clinton began the evening with a decisive (63-37) win in New Jersey and declared victory in the overall presidential nominating contest after demonstrating that the odds of Sanders eliminating her lead in pledged delegates had dropped to approximately zero. She then picked up narrow but symbolically significant wins in New Mexico and South Dakota, while losing (as expected) North Dakota and Montana. And the chimera of a big Sanders win in California faded as early mail-ballot results showed Clinton leading by a surprisingly big margin, enough to withstand a late surge fueled by Bernie’s young legions who registered and voted late. With more than 90 percent of votes counted, Clinton leads Sanders by a comfortable margin of more than a dozen points

Speaking to a loud and defiant Santa Monica crowd a few hours after Clinton claimed the nomination in Brooklyn, Sanders refused to concede the state or the nomination, and vowed to fight on to next week’s final primary in D.C.(where he is sure to lose big), and then to the convention. But he did not criticize Hillary Clinton or specifically pledge to contest her nomination (as distinguished from the platform or future nominating process rules) past the end of the primaries. Some observers are interpreting his remarks as the first stage of an inevitable concession by way of letting his young supporters down slowly. But fretful HRC supporters will be troubled by a new Politico story attributing the intermittent bitterness of the Sanders campaign toward Clinton to the Vermont senator himself. 

If, as appears likely, Clinton hangs on to her California lead, she will have avoided a late primary slump in the Golden State that could have cast a pall on the convention and on her general-election prospects. Instead, given Donald Trump’s sudden new problems, she’s not only the putative Democratic nominee, but could soon sport a recovered lead in general-election polls even if Bernie’s supporters are slow to reconcile themselves to her nomination. So she can probably afford to give them the time and space to get out of denial, to grieve and then recover.